Ronnie, Nancy and That Gay Conversion


As corrections go, this was Page 1 material, at least for the circulation that Hillary Clinton targets.

Magnanimous at a tender time, she had offered praise Nancy Reagan did not earn – of having been a prominent voice in the effort against AIDS.

No, no, a thousand times no. If Ron and Nancy Reagan took the lead against AIDS, I just heard Ted Cruz call Barack Obama our greatest president.

The truth: Many, many died because, rather than leading in the face of a health crisis, the Reagans held back among the tut-tut-tutting of the Judgment Chorus. Toward a federal response, for five years they were as interested in promoting myth as medicine.

The Reagan presidency and the AIDS crisis tracked each other. The first diagnoses on these shores of what was called “gay cancer” occurred in the first year of his presidency.

It took years for sanity, and science, to prevail.

Read Randy Shilts’ And the Band Played On. Know that if the Reagans had taken the lead early, a lot of lives would have been saved.

Unfortunately, tragically, a lot of Republican leaders were content in seeing AIDS in terms framed by the religious right: that sex outside of marriage by necessity comes with a punishment phase.

Ah, but people were dying from AIDS who didn’t fit that out-of-touch, condemnatory, furthest-thing-from-Christianity template.

It took far too long to protect the nation’s blood supply. Read all about how many contracted the disease that way: some 12,000. If the Gipper had expressed more urgency, we would have acted more urgently. But this was a “gay disease.” So ...

I said earlier that it took five years for things to change for the Reagans. On Oct. 2, 1985: Rock Hudson, a family friend, died of the disease. It changed everything for Ronnie and Nancy. Suddenly empathy kicked into gear – empathy about AIDS, empathy about being gay.

Can one change one’s sexual orientation under someone else’s admonition or a regimen of prayer and push-ups? One cannot. The only legitimate form of what we can safely call conversion regarding “gayness” is what the Reagans experienced when they realized that a really good person about whom they cared was gay and didn’t deserve any of the bad things many would wish on him.

We saw the same happen when Dick Cheney changed his tone on gay rights when daughter Mary announced she was a lesbian. Suddenly Mr. Hardliner sounded, um, malleable.

He has come out in favor of same-sex marriage, something Mary has since consummated. Being reasonable and compassionate about human rights for humans who happen to be homosexual is something Cheney can do, now that the religious right vote is not central to his holding barely checked power over you and me.

The legalization of same-sex marriage in this nation is another example of gay conversion: the good kind, the doable kind. The more that gay, lesbian and transgendered people come out of the shadows, the more we as a society understand the essential goodness in each.

The shame some would attach to homosexuality played a major role in AIDS’ spread. Prevented from entering into and proclaiming monogamous same-sex relationships, too many young gay men in the early ‘80s found companionship in reckless ways.

Monogamy in the age of AIDS being a public health necessity, why was it that it took the US Supreme Court and the Fourteenth Amendment to make same-sex marriage the law of the land? We know exactly why, and we should be ashamed.

Hillary Clinton issued an apology and a clarification after her comments about Nancy Reagan. It’s tragic that the history of this nation’s response to AIDS should ever need explaining.

John Young is a longtime Texas newspaperman who now lives in Fort Collins, Colo. Email See

From The Progressive Populist, April 15, 2016

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